# The basic argument of ID is probability

(Stephen Matheson) #21

Others have done a good job responding, but I want to add to the conversation by noting that this topic is pointing to one of the biggest and most consequential errors of ID and its associated “calculations” of probability. The bullseye analogy is the best metaphor for this error, which can be restated in this way:

When you choose an outcome, any outcome, in history, and calculate the probability of its occurrence, you will get an astronomically low number. This will be completely meaningless by itself. The only way to make that probability informative is to also show that the outcome was special in some way. In essentially every conversation about ID and probability, there is an unstated assumption that the outcome (a gene sequence, a bacterial structure, a particular species) was The Outcome. And this is not obviously true, indeed it is often clearly false. So, to claim that the existence of a particular enzyme (and its particular structure) is a Unique Outcome is to commit the bullseye fallacy. That person is looking at where the arrows landed and painting targets around them.

It’s extremely common in ID conversations, and once it is corrected, a large number of pro-ID “arguments” fall to pieces.

(George Brooks) #22

So… the person going into the woods, drawing a circle, is a YEC critic, right?

If not … it’s hopelessly obtuse…

(Stephen Matheson) #23

“Hopelessly obtuse” is an apt description of one aspect of this conversation, but not of the metaphor.

#24

It is the ID/YEC supporter who is drawing the circle. They are painting the target after the evolutionary pathway has already been taken. They are implying that evolution was aiming at that target the entire time and that it is the only possible outcome that could have occurred, ignoring all of the other places that evolution could have landed. Just to break it down . . .

Archer drawing back the arrow = ancient ancestor

arrow flying through the air = evolutionary pathway taken by descendants of the ancient ancestor in the past

arrow hitting tree in forest = the modern descendants of that ancient ancestor at the end of the evolutionary pathway

painting target around arrow = pretending that the modern descendants we see were the only possible descendants that could occur

(Jon) #25

That’s why someone else already identified the “Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy” earlier in this thread.

(Vlad K. I'm an Agnostic Atheist) #26

Hooked on Phonics did not work for me. I’m going to get my money back

(David Heddle) #27

If the basic argument for ID is probability, and I don’t think it is, IDers still manage to get it bass-ackwards. If you want prima facie evidence for a designer, it would be that the universe must be habitable–that habitability is built into the very fabric of spacetime. Probability = 1. If instead you want prima facie evidence for a multiverse, it would be that habitability is exceedingly unlikely and you need 10^1000 universes to get a few right.

IDers always, always pick the wrong end of the probability range which is one of many reasons why, as the Scots say, their “jaiket’s on a shoogly nail.”

(Mervin Bitikofer) #28

Just to reinforce what some have said in similar ways (such as Stephen above) there seems to be a common conflation between a particular event and a pre-specified particular event (to put the “painted bulls-eyes around already landed arrows” concept in yet another way). But the reason I add this clarification is that I’ve had intractable arguments with people over this very issue because of a failure to understand the difference between “pre-specified” and “after-the-fact observation”. [In fact I believe IDers like Myers coined the term “specified information” to distinguish this, I believe --though I’m not here defending their specific use of that concept.]

Essentially it is this: If I flip HHHTHTTHHT in a sequence of coin flips, none of you are impressed that anything special has happened. If I told you ahead of time that this would be the outcome and then proceeded to flip exactly this sequence, suddenly you are impressed and wondering how I pulled off the trick. Same exact event. Different contexts … which leads to wildly different reactions from observers. Saying that 6 heads and 4 tails were flipped (without specifying the order) does not show anything special, because so many possible outcomes give us 6 heads and 4 tails that it is not surprising to routinely land on that general mix. But flipping all 10 heads is only one of those possible outcomes and so that functions just as if I had “pre-specified” the outcome. Flipping 10 heads in a row makes you suspicious again that there must be a trick.

The upshot of all this is … is the type of universe that produces life an event like flipping 10 heads in a row --i.e. just an unlikely outcome period; and therefore in need of a multiverse so that we can pretend our 10H in a row is really selected out of a much larger sequence of coin flips? And all this fails to address the physical constants fine-tuning which, if not exactly right, essentially eliminates the possibility of any “coin-flipping” scenarios at all. Unlike our hopelessly simplified probability examples, our sample size =1 universe is just not enough for this to be a helpful apologetic for any particular side.

(George Brooks) #29

Ha, now that made me laugh @sfmatheson.

Metaphors are works of art. You either feel them, and they move you right away …

… or you sit there, start counting fingers, and wondering how exactly this is a convincing trope.

Come on … admit… the Lottery Winner metaphor is far better than all this “running into the woods” business…
I got it immediately and without any strain on the brain…

#30

That reminds me of a magician who was making a video of himself performing his act out in public. One of the more amazing tricks is that he wrote down a prediction on a sheet of paper, handed the deck to another person, had them draw a random card, and lo and behold it was the prediction. As it turns out, he had to repeat that trick 70 or so times before he guessed right, but you only get to watch the one that worked.

Calculating probability after the fact and confirmation bias can be hurdles to studies like these.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #31

@T_aquaticus

The lottery model is not bad, but you have distorted it as the way evolution works.

Please note that even Dawkins says that evolution is not purely random. Evolution is guided by natural selection. The big question is how does natural selection work to guide it.

First, lotteries do not have x million chances and sell x million tickets so there is guaranteed a winner. There are x million chances and y million tickets. There is no guaranteed winner, since many numbers are not played. If there is no winner, then the money goes back into the pot and another lottery is played.

The probabilities that human beings could be produced by evolution if it were based on ransom chance. Now if we are talking genetics and we look at the human genome or any genome for that matter we will see that it has billions of genes and billions of possible combinations.

However there are only a relatively few right combinations. Therefore the probability of humans being produced by evolution based on random chance alone is virtually zero. Fortunately as Dawkins says evolution does not operate one the basis of chance, but is guided by natural selection. So the question is, how does natural selection work?

#32

First, no analogy is perfect.

Second, the analogy is meant to model how random mutations work, not evolution as a whole. ID/creationists argue that the chances of random mutations producing a DNA sequence that can be selected for by natural selection is too prohibitive. In other words, the probability of a specific pathway leading to a beneficial mutation is too improbable. In this analogy, the winning ticket is analogous to the beneficial mutation.[quote=“Relates, post:31, topic:36976”]
First, lotteries do not have x million chances and sell x million tickets so there is guaranteed a winner. There are x million chances and y million tickets. There is no guaranteed winner, since many numbers are not played. If there is no winner, then the money goes back into the pot and another lottery is played.
[/quote]

Dude, it’s an analogy, not an attempt to perfectly model the lottery.

While the probability of a specific human genome evolving is nearly zero, the probability that a genome will evolve is nearly guaranteed. When you have imperfect replicators and limited resources you are guaranteed to get evolution and the production of genomes that are highly improbable. For all we know, a non-human intelligent species could have evolved millions of years ago but it didn’t. We shouldn’t pretend that humans had to evolve, or that the biodiversity we see today is the only result evolution could have produced.

To use another analogy, if I shuffled a 52 card deck and laid out the cards one by one, the chances of those cards being that order are 1 in 8x10^67. The very act of shuffling cards and dealing them out one by one produces a nearly impossible result, and yet it occurred. The very act of shuffling cards and dealing them out guarantees that a nearly impossible result will occur. The same for evolution.

Also, I don’t see how there are relatively few right combinations. No one has ever shown this to be true. There are an estimated 2.3 x 10^93 possible combinations of amino acids that will produce active cytochrome c, and that is just one protein. There isn’t even a requirement that life evolve cytochrome c.

(George Brooks) #33

You understand that you and Dawkins have invented a new level of “random”. Let me show you:

1. The numbers produced by throwing dice are considered “random”, but not intended to mean “Non-Lawful”. The distinction is not too difficult. If you had perfect comprehension of the existing natural processes that apply to thrown dice, you would be able to predict the numbers that come up.

2. The application of natural selection to population genetics is also based on the premise that “natural law” is at work here, just like it is at work with the dice.

3. But to say that Evolution is not random, but the Dice Throws are - - is a bit of linguistic gamesmanship.
So, shall we argue that throwing Dice is "not random, because the muscular vectors created by the dice thrower’s arm “guides” what numbers pop up?

This is really not what people mean when they say something is “random” or “not”. They aren’t arguing that there are no lawful forces… They are really arguing is there any “intelligent control” over the outcomes. The fact that most humans are not mentally or physically able to control dice well enough to make a difference, allows us to say dice throws are random.

When we apply the same logic to natural selection, we get a surprising result: for Dawson to say that evolution is not random is tantamount to saying that a Godless Universe somehow thinks or plans.

I don’t think Dawson plays well with others on these issues… and for him to banter around with the phrase “not random” is a bit of demagoguery!

#34

Or to put it another way, there is no meaningful connection between the outcome of the dice roll and the chips on the table. If someone bets on the Pass line it doesn’t increase the odds of rolling a 7 or 11 on the come out roll (which is an automatic winner on a Pass bet). The roll of the dice are random with respect to the bet. Mutations are the same. The processes that produce mutations are not influenced by what the organism needs, just as the dice are not influenced by the outcome the roller needs. Mutations are random with respect to fitness in the same way that the dice are random with respect to the bet.

Mutations which change fitness for the better or worse do not randomly spread through a population, which is the non-random part of evolution.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #35

@gbrooks9

I never said anything about dice being random or not. I was discussing a lottery and how lotteries are usually run. However there is another example of randomness which has been used and Dawkins re4fers to which is still in the back of people’s minds which needs to be inspected and dismissed.

This is the “monkey model.” It does like this, If you get x billion monkeys and get them to type randomly on x billion typewriters for x billion years, one of them will write War and Peace. If one does the math you will quickly see that this is bogus. If we are say that a gene is more complex that War and Peace, we will see that random evolution is untrue.

The application of natural selection to population genetics is also based on the premise that “natural law” is at work here, just like it is at work with the dice.

The natural law of natural selection is ecology and not the natural law of the dice. Ecology has meaning and purpose and is not random.

While there is an element of randomness in variation of genes, there is none in Natural selection.

@T_aquaticus
For all we know, a non-human intelligent species could have evolved millions of years ago but it didn’t.

I respectfully disagree. Humans are adapted to their environment just as surely as dinosaurs were adapted to theirs. I do not think that we can have a non-God of the Gaps, anymore than we can have a God of the Gaps. The God I worship is the God of the Facts

The card example is not determinative. We all know that as long as an order is reasonably possible, it will happen, given enough attempts. On the other hand if the order is not regular, as is language, then random order is not possible, esp. on the long run.

Rationality came out of natural order, because natural order is rational. There is no reason to think that rationality can come out of chaos.

(George Brooks) #36

@Relates

Oh, come now, Roger. You seem to be intentionally writing sentences that will be misinterpreted.

Ecology has meaning and purpose to the extent that anything does in the Universe - - if and only if God gives Ecology meaning.

Is that how you meant it, Roger?

The inverse would be: Without God, nothing in the Universe has meaning or purpose.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #37

Sorry to disagree with you. While the universe has rational order because God giives it rational order, therefore God exists.

The inverse would be, if the universe were without rational order, then there is no reason to think that God exists, and there would be no reason to think that anything exists, because humans would not exist.

(George Brooks) #38

@Relates

Very nicely stated.

But you have side-stepped my concern.

The only way we can figure out, for sure, how you mean “Ecology has purpose” is for you to answer this question:

Is there anything in the Universe that a human can describe as “without purpose”?; would it take the absence of God for you to say something is without purpose?

#39

Another non-human intelligent species would also be well adapted to their environment, so I’m not sure what you are saying here.[quote=“Relates, post:35, topic:36976”]
The card example is not determinative. We all know that as long as an order is reasonably possible, it will happen, given enough attempts. On the other hand if the order is not regular, as is language, then random order is not possible, esp. on the long run.
[/quote]

I don’t think you understood the example. If you shuffle a deck and lay down the cards one by one the odds of the resulting order of cards is 1 in 8x10^67. If you repeated the same procedure once a minute it would take you 1.5x10^62 years to get the same result which doesn’t seem that reasonable.

Also, how is language not regular?

#40

That seems rather circular.